Smart Selections in Figma

let’s have a look at a neat feature in Figma: Smart Selections.

Olivier Van Biervliet
Designer
Figma
Published
April 26, 2021

Working with several items at once can be challenging, especially in a design app. In an upcoming post we’ll have an in-depth look at groups and frames, but before that let’s have a look at another neat feature in Figma: Smart Selections.

Creating a Smart Selection

Smart Selection works on 2 or more objects. Ideally, they already have uniform spacing or arrangement, but if that is not the case you can use the Tidy Up function, turning your selection effectively into a smart selection.

You select your objects as usual and then use the blue button that appears in the bottom right to tidy up. Note that the button has a grid, columns or rows icon depending on your selection.

Use Tidy Up to create a Smart Selection

One of the advantages of Tidy Up and Smart Selection over the traditional distribute functions is that they work in horizontal and vertical direction at the same time. In this example, there are 2 columns and three rows of objects, all aligned and ready for manipulation.

Implicit grouping

Think of it as implicit grouping: you select some items on your canvas that you want to manipulate as a group, and without any further action you can already perform some operations on them. Obviously, basic operations like moving and centring are nothing new here.

Figma smart selections

But as you can see in the animation, Figma draws manipulation handles on the individual objects. These allow you to change the gap between them and select an individual object to change its position and dimensions.

Object manipulation in a smart selection

Note the difference between selecting an individual object directly, or through its smart selection handle.

In addition to using the handles, you can manually set gaps in the properties panel on the right side.

Use Cases

Here are some use cases for smart selections. They are pretty obvious, and I’m sure you can come up with lots more creative ideas to make the most of it. Feel free to suggest some ideas, we can then showcase them in the next post.

Icon Buttons

Toolbars

Aligning and repositioning toolbar elements becomes easy

Notes

  • Items do not need to be the same size or shape to be part of a smart selection.
  • Items can overlap in horizontal, vertical or both directions.
  • To tidy up, use the Control-Option-T (Ctrl-Alt-T) shortcut, the blue icon, or the Tidy Up button in the properties panel.
  • When you tidy up a one-dimensional selection like a single row or column of items, it will only tidy up in that direction. If they are not aligned vertically (for a row) or horizontally (for a column), you can then just use the align buttons as usual to fix that.

When you want to swap an object in a grid with another object, you need to hold the Command key (Ctrl on Windows). If you don’t do that, the object you’re dragging will just be added to that row/column.

I hope this explains the Smart Selection functionality for you. In a next post, we’re going into Groups versus Frames. If you have any questions, or requests about design or Figma, feel free to shoot us a message at community@hackages.io!

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